Trump Lawyers Tripped Jeff Clark As He Was Stumbling Backwards Into A Coup. Demand Medal Of Honor, Please.
And we're back! Still reading the January 6 Report, so you can nurse your weeklong hangover. Honestly, after this year — not to mention the six years before it — who could blame you! So let's hit the high points of Chapter 4 — "Just Call It Corrupt And Leave The Rest to Me" — and then head back to the kitchen for a top up, shall we?
Episode One: January 6 Report Is Real, And It's Spectacular
Episode Two: January 6 Report: Trump Tried To Crime Boss State Legislators Into Stealing Election
Episode Three: The Fake Electors Plot As Basically Written By The Coen Brothers, Woodchipper Included
This section deals with Trump's efforts to corruptly deploy the Justice Department to overturn his loss to Joe Biden. It opens with a good ten pages about Attorney General Bill Barr's stalwart efforts to impress upon Trump that Rudy Giuliani's insane word vomit about vote fraud was nonsense:
“And I told him that the stuff that his people were shoveling out to the public was bullshit, I mean, that the claims of fraud were bullshit,” Barr recalled about the December 1st meeting. “And, you know, he was indignant about that. And I reiterated that they wasted a whole month of these claims on the Dominion voting machines and they were idiotic claims.”
President Trump repeated that there had been a “big vote dump” in Detroit. But Attorney General Barr quickly parried this claim. There was nothing suspicious in how the votes flowed into a central location, Barr explained, because that is how votes are always counted in Wayne County. Moreover, Barr pointed out that the President performed better in Detroit in 2020 than he had in 2016.
“I mean, there’s no indication of fraud in Detroit,” Barr said. Barr explained that the “thing about the truck driver is complete, you know, nonsense.” DOJ and FBI had investigated the matter, including by interviewing the relevant witnesses. There was no truck filled with ballots.
Nothing that Attorney General Barr said during that meeting could satisfy President Trump. So, the President shifted the focus to Barr. He complained that the Attorney General hadn’t indicted former FBI Director James Comey and that U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation hadn’t made more progress.
“Look, I know that you’re dissatisfied with me,” Barr said, “and I’m glad to offer my resignation.” President Trump pounded the table in front of him with his fist and said, “Accepted.”
Okay, look. We all grok that the committee has to cast craven ghouls like White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Pat Philbin as stand up guys here, even after they defended Trump through four years of filthy racism. Bill Barr is a fucking monster, though, and we have not forgotten that.
If the name of the game here is to showcase heroic Republicans thwarting a coup and then testifying about Trump's dirty deeds, then, ughhh, okay, fine, we will dutifully play along. For the record, let us just state FUCK BILL BARR FOREVER.
After Barr's resignation, Pat Cipollone convinced him to stay a little longer, but it was clear after December 1 that Barr's days in the administration were numbered. So soon it fell to Jeffrey Rosen, who replaced Barr, and Richard Donoghue, who became Rosen's chief deputy, to fend off Trump's attempt to enlist the DOJ in his corrupt schemes. (And unlike the time they happily buried his attempt to blackmail the president of Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden, this time they refused to play along.)
The sixth section of this chapter is captioned "President Trump Is Introduced to Jeffrey Clark." But it would more appropriately be titled "Shit Starts to Go Sideways Fast." It begins thusly:
On December 21, 2020, 11 House Republicans met with President Trump at the White House to discuss their plans for objecting to the certification of the electoral college vote on January 6th. After the meeting, Mark Meadows tweeted: “Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with @realDonaldTrump preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned.”
Among those in attendance was Congressman Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania. By the next day, Representative Perry had introduced a little-known DOJ official named Jeffrey Clark to the President. At the time, Clark was the Acting Head of the Civil Division and Head of the Environmental and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice. Clark had no experience in, or responsibilities related to, investigating allegations of election fraud.
President Trump called Acting Attorney General Rosen “virtually everyday” between December 23rd and January 3rd. The President usually discussed his “dissatisfaction” with DOJ, claiming the Department was not doing enough to investigate election fraud. On Christmas Eve, Trump brought up Jeffrey Clark’s name. Rosen found it “peculiar,” telling the Select Committee: “I was quizzical as to how does the President even know Mr. Clark?”
Rep. Perry, along with eventual Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, had flogged various false claims of election fraud about the state, as well as supported Texas's batshit lawsuit to toss out all the swing state electoral votes. Nothing good was going to happen once he entered the chat with Jeff Clark in tow.
“Mark, just checking in as time continues to count down. 11 days to 1/6 and 25 days to inauguration. We gotta get going!” Perry texted Mark Meadows on December 26, 2021, adding, “Mark, you should call Jeff. I just got off the phone with him and he explained to me why the principal deputy [position] won’t work especially with the FBI. They will view it as not having the authority to enforce what needs to be done.”
“I got it. I think I understand. Let me work on the deputy position,” Meadows replied. Perry followed up with references to messages on Signal, which are encrypted and usually auto-delete, ensuring that they'll be unavailable to law enforcement. Convenient!
On a December 27 phone call to acting AG Rosen and Donoghue, Trump mentioned Perry, Mastriano, Rep. Jim Jordan, and Jeff Clark while continuing to press the DOJ to investigate widely debunked fraud claims. Or, hell, they didn't have to even investigate! As he did with President Zelenskyy, Trump was content for them to simply announce an investigation: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”
Perry called Donoghue later that day to rant that the “FBI doesn’t always do the right thing in all instances” and to press the case for Jeff Clark, whom he trusted to "do something about” the supposedly rampant election fraud. Perry followed up with an email repeating the allegation that Pennsylvania had tabulated an excess of 205,000 more votes than had been cast. In reality, Pennsylvania's election site had simply not been updated to include tallies from four counties which hadn't yet counted all their votes. There was no fraud — there was just a persistent refusal to look at evidence refuting the bogus fraud allegations.
Meanwhile, Trump was getting desperate. His clown car lawyers had failed to persuade any court to toss out Biden's win, and so he turned to the DOJ, pinning his hopes on a letter Clark had dummied up announcing a non-existent investigation into non-existent fraud in Georgia, and urging the Legislature to reconvene and steal the state's 16 electoral votes for Trump:
Clearly, President Trump and his campaign team could not get the job done. So, the President and those around him sought to use the hefty imprimatur of the U.S. Department of Justice to achieve the same thing. No doubt, a letter coming from the Department of Justice is different from a meandering call from Giuliani or one of his associates. And, because it was December 28th and there was little more than a week until the January 6th joint session of Congress, President Trump needed more, and soon. Clark’s letter, which laid out a plan that was almost identical to what President Trump and his team had pressured State officials to carry out virtually since election day, could have been just what President Trump needed.
He was also listening to nutjobs like Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, who urged him to dispatch Department of Homeland Security goons to seize all the ballots and voting machines and appoint a special counsel — preferably Powell herself! — to investigate the supposed election fraud and oversee a nationwide recount, this time using only the ballots "legally cast":
During the December 31st meeting, the President also raised the prospect of seizing the voting machines. “Why don’t you guys seize machines?”he asked. “You guys should seize machines because there will be evidence,” Donoghue recalled President Trump saying. Rosen pushed back, saying the DOJ had no basis to seize voting machines from the States. They needed a search warrant, but there was no evidence to justify one.
Rosen explained to President Trump again that the DOJ has no responsibility for oversight, as the States conduct the elections. Rosen added that to the extent that any Federal agency is involved, it is the Department of Homeland Security, which ensures “software selection and quality control.” At that point, the President called Ken Cuccinelli. Donoghue recalled the President saying something along the lines of, “Ken, the Acting Attorney General is telling me it’s your job to seize machines.” Rosen had said nothing of the sort, but Cuccinelli quickly shot down the President’s line of inquiry, making it clear that the Department of Homeland Security had no such authority.
The chapter ends with the infamous Oval Office showdown when Trump was only prevented from installing Clark as head of the DOJ by the threat of a massive wave of public resignations by the Department's entire leadership, as well as half the White House Counsel's Office. It will never not be funny that the country was saved by Donoghue, the career criminal prosecutor, sneering at at Clark, "You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”
But at the same time, it's worth taking a step back to put this in context, as one more corrupt ploy to stay in power after he'd failed in the courts, failed to pressure local officials like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to fraudulently overturn the will of the voters, and failed to get any legislatures to recognize his fake electors.
The committee wrote:
We should pause to reflect on the timing and purpose of the meeting. Congress was set to meet in a joint session in less than 72 hours. The States had already certified their electors. Former Vice President Biden was going to be certified as the winner of the 2020 Presidential election. There was no material dispute over Biden’s victory. Trump and his lawyers had not produced any evidence of significant fraud. Instead, they presented one nonsensical conspiracy theory after another. The DOJ and FBI were forced to debunk these claims — and they did. None of this stopped President Trump’s effort to subvert DOJ. Quite the opposite. The President pushed forward with a plan to install Jeff Clark as the Acting Attorney General, apparently to attempt to interfere with the certification of the electoral college vote on January 6th.
In retrospect, it seems clear that violence was inevitable. Which makes it that much harder to accept a version of events in which these guys were heroes for refusing to participate in the coup. They'd worked with Trump for years — they knew exactly who he was, and exactly what he was capable of doing. And it wasn't like they had to guess! Trump had already sent the "will be wild" tweet, and was actively planning to accompany the mob when it left the Ellipse and headed for the Capitol.
So you can miss us with Pat Cipollone's sanctimoniously protecting the sacred executive privilege while claiming to have been too busy heroically heading off Jeff Clark to pay attention to social media. Because these people didn't work for Donald Trump. They worked for the American people as embodied in the institution of the presidency. They knew there would be violence, and they did nothing to prevent it. So long as they didn't have to personally get their hands dirty, their consciences were clear.
Great job, fellas. It was literally the least you could do, and you did it.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.